New Documentary on Graff and Street Art Grrlz: “Street Heroines”

Because I’m a mother of a beautiful amazing brilliant small child, sometimes I miss the other stuff going on in life. But don’t get it twisted, I’m still down! 😉

Last night was one of those times, but luckily because Pau is painting at SUNY New Paltz this week (and on a panel today with me!), I got to experience the brilliance second hand.

Alexandra Henry screened her new documentary Street Heroines: “A FEATURE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE COURAGE AND CREATIVITY OF FEMALE GRAFFITI AND STREET ARTISTS.”

Peep the trailer! Fall in love. Feel the energy around this movement to uplift women putting in the work. Donate Money.

Support Women in Street Art!

Know Your Herstory: CatFight Digital Zine

So I’m in the middle of writing a new chapter for Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora based on two old ones (from my dissertation) and I realized two things: 1) I’m writing about how performances of feminism circulate online and my blog has been woefully neglected (my bad! writing a book, teaching, and momming is incredibly time consuming) and 2) not enough people know about the e-zine (digital zine, digizine, or whatever you want to call it) CatFight: Female Graff Update!

In brief, CatFight was a labor of love for F. Lady in the Netherlands of Bitches in Control crew (BIC). Begun in 2005, F. Lady produced 9 spectacular issues that–except for #6–are still available as free downloadable PDFs.

To make your life easy, here are the links!

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From the Archives: An interview with hemispheric graffitera MISS163

[written Summer 2013]

No Somos “Mariposas,” Somos “MariPUSSY”: An Interview with Graffiti Art Activist MISS163 aka Sharon Lee De La Cruz.

Walking through the streets of New York City you are bound to note the graffiti-covered buildings, bridges, and tunnels. You may ask yourself “how,” but have you ever wondered: “why” or “who?” Approximately 28 years of aggressive Broken Window[1] policing has answered the “who and why” with a single, decidedly gendered and racialized, qualifying designation—vandal—effectively denying the art form and the art makers any kind of social legitimacy or political import. No matter, though. Hip Hop graffiti writers have never been that interested in obtaining permission or legitimacy from any kind of governing body. They write on walls for a wide variety of reasons including subcultural infamy, sociopolitical rebellion, and aesthetic expression. Since Hip Hop graffiti appeared on the streets of NYC in the late 1960s/early 1970s, writers have intermittently “flipped” their formerly criminal activity into an income-producing creative practice—exploiting consumer culture’s fetish for niche markets and the gallery system’s taste for the raw energy of the “exotic,” the “other,” the criminal. Some writers have also utilized graffiti art’s quasi-fashionable/quasi-criminal, always public and communicative character for social and political purposes. MISS163 aka Sharon Lee De La Cruz is one such graffitera (female graffiti artist). Currently stretching the boundaries of legal mural artist vs illegal graffiti “bomber,” and capitalist vs radical feminist activist, she exemplifies how contemporary graffiteras are successfully navigating conventional limitations, answering the question of “who” is behind the writing on the wall with a resounding “why.”

MISS163 was born in 1987, raised on 163rd street and Hoe Avenue in the Bronx, and started tagging in 2004. She earned her BFA from The Cooper Union (2008) and was awarded a one-year Fulbright to study experimental filmmaking and mural making in Lima, Peru (2008­-2009). In Lima, she advanced from tagging to more intricate pieces and mural painting as a founding member of Maripussy Crew—an international, all-female, feminist, Latina and Latin American graffiti collective. As a hemispheric radical feminist artist, MISS163 focuses her artistic activist energies on women’s issues and youth development in the Bronx and in Lima. Currently, she is an after-school Program Director for ACTION (Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood) and WOMEN (Where Our Minds Empower Needs) at The Point Community Development Corporation in the Bronx. In February 2012, she was awarded a “Woman Warrior Award” from Project Reach and the NY Daily News quoted MISS163 stating, “You don’t have to leave your community to live in a better one” (Whitehead, 2012). That same year, she became a Calvin Klein Brand Ambassador designed a four-part assortment of “graffiti glam” make-up under the name CK1 Street Edition (News 12 Bronx, 2013). Described by Vanity Fair reporter Lynden Volpe as a collection with a “girly yet edgy vibe,” the lipstick, nail strips, nail polish, and eye shadow feature the literally brilliant color-palette MISS163 uses in her graffiti art (Volpe 2013). With names like Vandalize, Sketched, Painted, Tagged, and Punked, MISS163’s set exposes and explores the aesthetic lines between the grimy and the beautiful. Starting in Fall 2013, she will begin her Master’s research on temporality and permanence in graffiti art in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.

At 26, MISS163 continues to make quite an impact in both of her chosen communities. She is the epitome of a millennial digital activist. Skillfully managing a dynamic online presence on most, if not all, social media outlets, the public can find her on: Tumblr; YouTube; Facebook; Twitter (@Miss163); Instagram; Myspace; Flickr; Vimeo; and, of course, her own website. Her digital presence amplifies her local community work. We sat down in Pop’s of Brooklyn in Manhattan to discuss her social justice work, her experiences living in Peru, the gender and sexuality politics in graffiti subculture, her role as mentor and leader to the other women in Maripussy, her struggles as a self-identified pansexual AfroLatina, and her solo exhibition at bOb bar & gallery: Wild Thing.

JP: In Hip Hop graffiti subculture, everyone has an alter ego—a kind of stage name referred to as a “tag name,” under which they practice their art form. Tag names tend to refer to something personal like a favorite color, nickname, or the place one was raised. How did you choose yours?

MISS163: My name is Sharon De La Cruz, aka MISS163, aka uno seis tres (one, six, three), aka Charo—that’s what my family calls me. I started painting “Charo” at 18 years old, but that was small tags here and there until I realized “if my momma sees this on a wall, it ain’t gonna be too cute,” haha. I was raised on 163rd street and Hoe Avenue, so I changed it to 163. I wanted to be old school so I crowned myself “Miss 163”.

JP: So after painting sola (alone) for a couple of years, while you were getting your BFA, you spent some time in Peru on a Fulbright and that’s where you founded Maripussy?

MISS163: At Cooper, I took a course on Urban Experience in Latin America and it was based on the history of Mexico and Peru, and focused on the psychology of urban planning. I knew I wanted to travel to Latin America after school and my homeboy told me to check out this thing called a Fulbright. I applied thinking that I wasn’t gonna get it. Turns out, I was wrong.

JP: Can you briefly explain your project?

MISS163: I was doing experimental filmmaking with high school kids. Originally, I wanted to do stop-motion graffiti, but my advisor “advised” me not to do that; haha. I understood why. The Fulbright is the US Government, so they want nothing that has to do with illegality. I kind of masked the project and said “we will do movie projections.” We were basically experimenting with late-night humor, like Jay Leno style. It was really hard to get the students involved. They were natural at it, but they learned that it was bad. I even had teachers that were concerned about what I was teaching. In Peru, people disappeared after using humor against the government. Silly little me wanted to do that, but it was something that was frowned upon. It was very interesting. I learned so much from those kids!

JP: And it was in your first trip to Peru, during your Fulbright year, that you met the other ladies of your now-international graffiti crew right?

MISS163: Yes. While I was in Lima, I met up with tons of local artists and we started painting walls. It was great. That’s where I met Nemiye. She’s the one that does all these crazy Q’s. It’s just so interesting that we grew up in two totally different hemispheres, but the politics of growing up as a Latina are so similar…it’s also disgusting. The first time we painted together was in March 2009 for International Women’s Day. That’s when we knew that we had to keep painting with each other because the chemistry was flawless. We had the same humor, politics, and view on life. Being a crew was a joke at first, and then I told them my story about what my mother called my vagina, which is mariposa (butterfly). And then our friend said, “You should call yourself ‘Las Mariposas’.” The four of us—Mishap, Bronik, Nemiye, and myselfhat mariposa wasn’t strong enough. We wanted a PUNCH. So I asked, “What about MariPUSSY crew?” Maripussy is a super feminist collective, and with our graffiti we tell stories about the effects of patriarchy in relationship to women’s health. We were originally based in Lima, but now we’re also in Paris (Nemiye), Barcelona (Bronik), and New York (yours truly). There are seven of us now: six graffiteras (Mishap, Nemiye, Perez, Monica Miros, Biarck, and myself) and one rapper (Blue). I was so happy to find a group of women to whom I didn’t have to explain everything. I didn’t have to explain sexism or racism. I didn’t have to explain how oppression affects how we love, live, and make art. Before then, my dream of being a part of a sorority, or a women’s crew, seemed like it was far-gone. I always dreamt of having what I call “sister friends”—this unbroken bond between women. But it never happened because I went to art school with no sorority clubs. I didn’t have any friends who wrote [graffiti], nonetheless any women. And if I knew about women writers, they were older; there wasn’t anyone in my age bracket. So I knew graffiteras who were geographically close, but for whatever reason they were either inaccessible or it felt less natural to form a crew. Especially because I didn’t learn how to paint walls in the US, most of my murals were in Peru and that’s where I learned narrative and colors on a large scale. In Peru, I finally found women my age and they had vagina politics.

JP: It’s interesting that you keep pointing to the similarities in the “vagina politics” that you’ve experienced in the US and that they’ve experienced in Peru. What are “vagina politics” anyway?

MISS163: When we came together and shared our stories, they were similar despite happening in two different hemispheres. I lived in both places and I spoke with a lot of women, and it’s the same fundamental concept of being a “woman,” particularly a graffiti artist, in a patriarchal world. We call it “vagina politics” because as a result of having vaginas we’ve gotten to this…place. When I talk about this “place,” I mean we’ve become who we are because we’ve self-reflected about our experiences. We listened to our gut feelings about sexism and feminism. We understand that the stereotypes of women being emotional and crazy came from a sexist place. We’ve listened to ourselves. We’ve paid attention to what was going on around us, and we chose this thing called graffiti painting in order to express ourselves. To explore and flesh out our ideas about vagina politics, while opening the conversation up to complete strangers. We feel it is important to continue to initiate these conversations beyond our crew—and that’s what’s so fun, and ironic, about art! Once you create it, it no longer needs you to continue to carry out your intention.

JP: And the intention of forming Maripussy was to build a support system of like-minded women artists. Doing so reminds you that you’re not alone. It’s much more productive to have a network, right?

MISS163: Especially in the game called painting or writing, it’s all about support. It’s dark and you’re alone and my instincts say: no, don’t go into the dark! Painting sometimes goes against my instincts, but I keep doing it. I call the women in Maripussy my sister-friends, and to me sister-friends are really important. They keep you grounded. Even though Maripussy isn’t always with me physically, they can still say to me: “Sharon, you’re not painting!” And I’m like, “How do you know?!” We share all our stuff on the internet, so if nothing new has been posted someone like Mishap will know that I haven’t been painting. I also know that people depend on me in this weird way—we need to keep our name alive. I have a tattoo on my chest that says Maripussy. I don’t want another little Sharon growing up saying she doesn’t have a mentor or a network. I take feminist community building very seriously, especially with young women.

JP: Your visibility is really important for young women looking for mentors, for established pathways into the subculture. How has your position as brand ambassador for CK1, and your community work with the Point, elevated your visibility and altered how you feel as a woman in a numerically male-dominated subculture?

MISS163: It’s overwhelming because I feel like I have to represent all women, which is ridiculous because every woman is different and those differences are complicated. BUT, it’s also sweet because I get to give a voice to a lot of women and I get to exercise my power in a sustainable, fruitful way. I can model what being a “voice” looks like, how to be comfortable in your own skin, and how to be fulfilled without compromising your politics. The politics are so intense. I don’t paint with certain people because of the politics. Feeling like you have to prove yourself because you are a woman is not fun. I transform the negative energy, in regards to proving yourself, and turn that into “proving” how conscious, creative, and inspiring women can be. Yes, every time I hold a spray can I am “proving” something on an artistic level and as a woman. I have many limitations, but I refuse to let my gender be one of them. You just gotta keep doing it.

JP: Does that sense of having to prove yourself as a woman in a “man’s world” subside when you paint with Maripussy?

MISS163: When I paint with Maripussy it is fun. I feel like I’m on clouds. We’ve come to the point now, where we don’t have to talk about a piece—we just paint it out. We’re always dancing and laughing. We joke throughout the whole thing because we’re chillin with our girls.

JP: After meeting with two all-female crews in Chile, I started thinking about the production of feminist community by graffiteras who do not identify as “feminist.” I never would have written that chapter if I’d focused on New York City, or the States in general for that matter. All-female crews seem to be the social-subcultural norm in Latin America, whereas in the States they are few and far between. Initially, I thought it had something to do with the kind of “gray space” of legality that some Latin American writers work within—with more visibility on the street as you paint, you might be more likely to paint together, etc. Is graffiti art in Lima quasi-legal, like in Santiago and Rio?

MISS163: Yea, it depends. Walls are less idolized because of the money it takes to keep them up. So if a landlord can get a free “paint” job then why not? Graffiti artists take advantage of the situation and find more creative ways to send a visual political message. In Peru, I can’t just paint a “pro-choice” wall because it is a very conservative place, but I can mask it with characters and the use of colors. It challenges you to become a better artist, I think. My boyfriend pointed this out and I thought it was really interesting. He asked: “Why do the girls in Hip Hop in Peru look so masculine?” I didn’t realize until he pointed it out, but I was like: “Well, because that’s Hip Hop.” I feel like there’s less room to play with being girly and hardcore. You just gotta be hardcore. One of my Maripussy friends is in Bogota now with her girlfriend.

JP: Isn’t it interesting that we went from the “masculinity in Hip Hop” to the Maripussy crew member who is a lesbian? The subconscious word association “masculine woman=lesbian” is frequently uttered, regardless of the speaker’s politics. And is a really great example of why graffiteras tend to keep their sexuality to themselves. They might come out to me, but they don’t want to feed into the heterosexist rumor mill that uses their sexuality against their subcultural credibility (i.e. women writers are “dykes” or “whores”).

MISS163: I consider myself pansexual. If you’re attractive, you’re attractive. Our fascination with gender is corrupt. We are more focused on the gender of folks, than the partnership that they are building. Not only are we fighting because we’re women and feminists, but also how and who we love. Those things are

JP: One of the reasons I started writing about gender politics in graffiti was because of the notion that graffiti transcends all systems of identity-based oppression. Since graffiti is an anonymous act (mostly), the idea is that anyone can do graffiti. But the thing is: you can do it, but will you be supported or mentored in any way that enables you to keep doing it?

MISS163: The guys who showed me how to paint a mural were actually three of the high school boys I was teaching in Lima. I was showing them that I could draw and I did graffiti and they were like: “You wanna paint a wall?” I was like, “YEAH”! Imagine. These young men had more privilege to go out and seek these walls and show me this life! year old me was like, “Wow. Okay, this is crazy.” To be in certain parts of Lima to paint a wall, I had to be accompanied by three high school boys.

JP: You said that your graffiti takes a specifically feminist stance to illustrate particular narratives regarding vagina politics; how do you incorporate the politics of race and colorism into those narratives?

MISS163: The last piece I painted on my first visit to Peru was about “Doña Papa.” Doña Papa is basically what Aunt Jemima is in the U.S; but instead of syrup, she sells candy. She’s a slave woman with the hair wrap and all of that. I painted her vomiting all the candies. Mishap said “all these Black guys and girls are going wild over your piece.” They loved it because Doña Papa was finally doing something—she was the actor, not the acted upon. That’s when I learned how to mess with politics in another country. I like to twist pop culture images so they tell a more complex story.

JP: You’re working on a series for your solo show at bOb bar & gallery, right?

MISS163: Yes. I’ve been researching how women of color are used as community-organizing tools and I’m basing the series on Ruby Bridges as “Max” from Where The Wild Things Are. Bridges is the perfect example of why being Black and a woman is political from the start. Imagine: you’re seven years old, and you’re brought in as a political tool. Her parents were approached by the NAACP because she got the highest GPA in her all-Black elementary school and once the government ordered integration she was chosen. The NAACP specifically chose young Black girls. They could not be boys because little Black boys grow up to be educated Black men and that ain’t flyin’. But because she was a young female, the perception of her femininity as fragile, inferior, and most importantly less threatening positioned her as the perfect transitional subject in a larger movement for equality and integration. Her story is mind-blowing. I’m getting goose bumps just talking about it. Using women so strategically…and I think that’s a larger metaphor. Have you read Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry? That book is killer. It’s about carrying, not only your race, but your sex, on your back. I think Bridges is a perfect example of this. Putting the two together in this way makes too much sense to me.

JP: Obviously your Wild Things series critiques a particular moment in history, but, do you think that it “makes too much sense to you” because you identify with the difficulties of race and gender politics in a particular way?

MISS163: Oh yea, totally. In New York, I’m Dominican. In Florida, I was half-Black and half-white. Then, when I went to Peru, I was gringa (white girl). Then I was “chinch,” which is Black in Peru. It’s like, “Okay…whatever you see.” When I’m in the States I tell people I’m Afro-Latina, but when I go to Peru that doesn’t mean anything. I told one of my girls that I was Afro-Latina and she laughed at me. I was like, “what are you laughing at?” I’m not Latina to her. My parents are from the Caribbean and they speak Spanish, but that doesn’t make me Latina to her. My brother makes a lot of racist remarks about Black women, and I’m like: “Hey I’m your sister!” But he sees me as Dominican and Puerto Rican.

JP: Your work communicates an ethic of resistance in regards to a variety of social messages while being attentive to aesthetics, to style. I see no separation between your art and your activism, but rather a kind of reproductive feedback loop.

MISS163: Graffiti is consciousness; it is the visualization of “thinkers” and “questioners.” For example, making sure that there is a “Female Flava”[2] wall, a wall dedicated to women in The South Bronx. Making sure that you create spaces to tell a story that has been marginalized and normalized simultaneously. We want to create art that questions social conditions, that celebrates women and generates fruitful discussion. Both my graffiti art and my activism are about organizing and energizing women.

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References

News 12 Bronx. 2013. “Bronx Graffiti Artist Sharon De La Cruz Teams up with Calvin Klein for Street Edition Cosmetics Line,” April 16. (http://bronx.news12.com/news/bronx-graffiti-artist-sharon-de-la-cruz-teams-up-with-calvin-klein-for-street-edition-cosmetics-line-1.5083018), accessed on June 6, 2013.

Volpe, Lynden. 2013. “CK One Goes Street for Spring.” Vanity Fair Blogs, March 11. (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/beauty/2013/03/CK-One-Goes-Street-for-Spring), accessed on June 6, 2013.

Whitehead, Kim. 2012. “Sharon De La Cruz, Artist and Activist from The POINT, Honored for Community Work in the Bronx.” NY Daily News, February 23. (www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/sharon-de-la-cruz-artist-activist-point-honored-community-work-bronx-article-1.1026377), accessed on June 6, 2013.

WYSK. 2013. “Women Talk: 10 Questions With Miss 163, Art Meets Activism -WYSK.” (http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/women-talk-10-questions-with-miss-163-art-meets-activism/), accessed on June 6, 2013.

[1] Graffiti’s eradication has been a central component of “Broken Windows” policing since Glazer’s 1979 Public Interest article and expanded by Kelling and Wilson’s 1982 eponymous piece in The Atlantic Monthly. In 1985, the NYC Transit Authority hired Kelling to consult on the implementation of Broken Windows theory.

[2] Female Flava is an annual South Bronx event organized by De La Cruz that focuses on women. The 2013 theme is “No Means No, An End to Violence Against Women.” See http://www.facebook.com/events/526315694099978/?fref=ts.

Hanging out in a dirty tunnel…getting in touch with the “Erotic” (a la Lorde)

Some people go to the gym, some people do needlepoint, this is what I do…I hang out in dirty tunnels and I like it. ~Itsa, 2015

When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our own language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives. ~Audre Lorde, 1978

It’s been at least a year and a half since the last time I went to a painting jam, a street art festival, or just hung out with writers while they worked. But it has been ENTIRELY too long since I have hung out at a painting event where the majority (or the entirety) of the artists/writers were self-identified women. Anyone who knows graf culture knows that events like these are few and far between…but when they happen, it’s well…erotic. No, I am not saying that there was something necessarily sexual about the event. While I was trying to think of what angle to take with this blog post, I was also writing a lecture for my feminist theory class on the work “Uses of the Erotic” by black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde. And basically, for Lorde the “erotic” is not at all about porn, or even limited to “sexytime”; the erotic is a feeling, a force to be reckoned with once it is accessed, or in performance studies lingo: an affect that does something. At the end of class, I asked my students: how do you get in touch with your erotic? For me, it is attending events like Femme Fierce. Graffiti events featuring all or mostly self-identified women are my jam…I experience them intellectually and emotionally as a woman of color scholar in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal world. The energy and the environment are unmatched. My research allows me to get in touch with my erotic (I am privileged in this way, for sure). “For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing.”

And that is exactly why this year—rather than just promote Femme Fierce (as I did last year from Abu Dhabi)­—my 3 month old, my partner and I went to London for the second annual Femme Fierce event; the largest all-female street art event in recorded history!

Femme Fierce took place in the Leake Street tunnel in central London, also known as the infamous Banksy Tunnel (because he is the one who flipped the dark, smelly, unused space and made it a home for street artists). As an annual happening, Femme Fierce celebrates International Women’s Day, highlights street and graffiti artists who identify as women, and raises funds for nonprofit organizations (2015 was PlanUK and the theme was “Because I am a Girl”). The Saturday before, the organizer Ayaan Bulale, planned an entire day of workshops not only for artists, but also for the general public including: Marketing for Street Artists; The Art of Stencilling; Cans, Caps and Colours; Rebel with a Smartphone; History of Leake Street; An Adventure with Spray Cans; and Tags, Dubs and Burners. The workshops were a nice way to prep for the events of the next day, and of course a great way to learn about the history of the tunnel and London graffiti scene. Sunday was surreal. I’ve never seen so much live painting at once. (Note to self: when doing research in a space with 150 people using aerosol paint…bring a facemask). Beginning at 8AM, I watched as they first turned that tunnel blue, and then covered the approximately 300 meters of wall space with characters, quotes, stencils, mini-sculptures, installations, and some letters.

The writers were by far the minority in terms of style—by my count out of the approximately 150 artists painting there were 11 writers: Bow, Throne, Cyber, Akit, Mish, Itsa, Evay, Baek, Pixie, Mons, Weardo. I caught up with Steffi Bow (lives in Dubai) and Pixie (living in London)—two graffiti grrlz that I’ve met and worked with before. But I also had the pleasure of meeting new writers including Mons, Throne, Evay, and Itsa (a mainstay in the London scene), and watching as Akit, Cry (more oldschool heads), and Throne painted. Despite calls for more writers to show up this year, as opposed to last year, they were still in the obvious minority and that is no coincidence.

Events like Femme Fierce break one of the conventions of graffiti culture: anonymity. In addition to paying your dues (getting up as frequently in as many different places as possible illegally), and using aerosol paint to write your name’s letters on any surface possible (if you do paint characters they should be accompanied by letters), you should be doing your graffiti in the dead of night and not in front of a public audience. At Femme Fierce, all of the writers I spoke with knew of these conventions and responded to my questions in ways that reinforced their knowledge of “the rules”—all the while breaking them because they were painting a legal wall in a public space in front of a constant stream of people with every kind of recoding device you can imagine. Not to mention they were also breaking what we might think of as an unspoken rule in graffiti—don’t paint with other women exclusively…unless you want the rumor mill to come at you with “she is good for a girl” or “she paints with other women because she isn’t good enough to get down with the boys.” And yet, each one of them had the desire to participate in Femme Fierce not only because it was International Women’s Day and for a good cause, but to represent women as writers painting letters. There was a lot of emphasis on representing graffiti grrlz, and for good reason.

As I’ve written before, but most specifically in a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of Graffiti and Street Art, the way people view and value graffiti art is shaped by gendered conventions relating back to the expected performance of male masculinity; consequently this expectation affects the numbers of women in graf. The writers from Femme Fierce each noted the disproportionate number of faces/characters being painted in relationship to letters going up in the tunnel; they attributed the underrepresentation to girls and women being too intimated to write letters, in general. Women have been told that “men are better at it.” Being outnumbered made their presence all the more important in terms of breaking gendered conventions about who can develop a fly hand style. Just by representing graffiti writers at the event, these women opened a kind of affective/intellectual/ideological space for anyone who witnessed them painting. I had multiple conversations with strangers who had no idea there were this many women street artists. To which, I say: And if you don’t know, now ya know [musical interlude]!

Without fail each writer I spoke with recounted that the usefulness of Femme Fierce as an event had something to do with making women feel more comfortable—that even though anyone can pick up a spray can, the environment (social, subcultural, structural) can be hostile for women. Without fail, they all used words like “liberating,” “free,” and “open” to describe how the event felt that day. Two of the writers noted the space of the tunnel in particular; noting that painting on the edges of the tunnel is safe if you are alone at night—it’s easier to get out from the edge as opposed to the middle where you would have to run from your would be assailant for a longer period of time. [Calculating the quickest escape route is a normal requisite for graffiti writers, but for women the person you might be running from is not only the police officer, but also the sexual predator. Femme Fierce temporarily suspends (and therefore shifts incrementally) an environment and an artistic act that can be not only hostile, but literally dangerous for female bodies.]

If the power of and in FemmeFierce is that it battled graffiti’s often-negative affective environment for women, that is because the energy it produced was not only validated, but was felt fully by participants and passersby. Femme Fierce makes you want more—whether it is more visibility, representation, diversity (two men put up a very feminist stenciled piece while wearing wigs and makeup), or community. Femme Fierce demonstrated that more was possible, that change was possible. “Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world,” for when we are “[i]n touch with the erotic, [we] become less willing to accept powerlessness.” While there may have been critiques about the event—mainly because the tunnel is an open and free-for-all public space—being taken over by these women for a full day, this event did a lot of work towards claiming place for women in the public sphere as producers of art. And it did so, fiercely.

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Go See City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection

About 3 weeks ago I was back in New York City for a handful of days, thoroughly enjoying the dark skies, slushy snow, and freezing wind. What can I say? I’m a winter baby. I had a short list of critical TO DO’s for my visit: 1. eat any and all Latin American food (things like tostones y arroz con habichuela don’t exist here in Abu Dhabi, neither do proper burritos); 2. eat all the pizza you can get your hands on; 3. eat a burger smothered in dill pickles; 4. stock up on all the things you take for granted (like unscented soap for sensitive skin); 5. walk through the village; 6. visit 5pointz and witness the disgraceful remains of the whitewashing; and finally, go see City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection. My priorities revolved around food and graffiti…but, considering where I was and what I do, that probably makes a lot of sense.

I didn’t know it, but I have been waiting for something like City as Canvas for almost four years.

I first learned about Wong—the East Village Chinese American artist/advocate/collector who died from AIDS related causes in 1999—in 2009. The Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University hosted a panel discussion and organized an exhibition highlighting the cultural context of 80s and 90s NYC within which Wong and his friends lived and worked called Art, Archives, and Activism: Martin Wong’s Downtown Crossings. The exhibition was created with works drawn from the Fales library, memorabilia from friends (like Lee, Charlie Ahearn), Semaphore Gallery, and PPOW Gallery. Sitting on the panel, Lady Pink and Hugo Martinez described him and his commitment to their work and graffiti subculture in the 80s/90s culture wars and amidst yet another push for NYC’s “urban renewal.” I remember thinking how his apartment must have been an extraordinary place, an intimate, precious, and unique vault of moments in NYC graffiti’s early history. I wanted to see it ALL.

The works in City as Canvas are also from the 80s, but the 70s are present as well. Turns out, in 1993/1994 Wong donated the “treasure trove” that was his apartment to the City Museum; he had been collecting since 1982. Viewers can watch clips of Wong talking to friends on the phone about his decision; there is also a short video (by Ahearn) of writers like Lee and Daze talking about Wong, looking at the memorabilia, and explaining the context of the work. Described by Felicia Lee in the New York Times, as the “remnants of the schism between the outlaw art form and mainstream institutions,” on view are: blackbooks—so many blackbooks—encased in glass just asking to be thumbed through (that part is a tad torturous); giant pieces of scrap plywood painted by Futura 2000 and Zephyr; a bust of Jesus altered by LAII’s markings; a too cool wooden grid of tags collected by Wicked Gary; framed Martha Cooper originals, including the infamous Dondi photo; a video of painted trains passing by; and spray-painted jean jackets (this photoblog has a nice bit of images). For certain writers, you can see the original piece that you’ve only seen in books. You can also see really early sketches and works on canvas, where space, color, line, depth, and medium were being tested and innovated. It’s impossible to process everything at once. I gotta go back.

   New York Magazine’s “Approval Matrix” placed City as Canvas right at the intersection of highbrow, lowbrow, brilliant, and despicable (technically in the highbrow and brilliant square)—a fitting spot for a show on graffiti art in a city that has always had a love/hate, consume/reject, celebrate/criminalize bipolar relationship with the movement.

Basically, my message here is simple: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, GO. You have until August. You can purchase the exhibition book at the museum gift shop along with all kinds of goodies, like this mug that I simply had to have.

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Support the important cultural work this show is doing for graffiti subculture, the writers, the aficionados, and the advocates. If you have not been to a museum since high school, or think all museums are places of “high art” snobbery…take thee to this exhibition. This is your history NYC; part of a movement born on your streets that speaks to those beyond those streets and thrives in cities around the world. Like Wong, we must recognize the worth in a genre of art making labeled criminal or aesthetically displeasing. In a capitalist world drowning in the proper, the conventional, the luxurious, and the mainstream (pop culture), we must support the despicable, the alternative, and the lowbrow popular cultures—the cultures of the people.

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Notes on 5Pointz: Feelings, Responses, and the Desire to “Save”

Just before 7PM on Tuesday November 19th (Abu Dhabi time), I glanced down at my phone to get my social networking “fix” before class. I scanned the latest tweets and status updates. And there it was:

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Rage. Disbelief. Shock. Sadness. I went through each “stage of mourning” in about 60 seconds. Trying to explain to my students why I was mumbling crazy things at my phone (but the rally was just a few days ago, why am I not in NYC?!, what about the landmark petition), I asked if they made it to 5Pointz during their semester “on the square” (this is what NYU Abu Dhabi-ers call NYU’s NYC campus). Some of them had, but none of them had the kind of visceral response I was having. After class, I had a lot of little red notifications to read through. My friends and colleagues had messaged links to articles, emailed blog posts, and tagged me in memes and photos. It took a while to get to sleep that night. I told  Facebook: “I’ve been trying to come up with something smart to say about 5Pointz being whitewashed, but really all I can do is be angry, swear, and cry a little. Clearly, I’ve got to do some real processing before I can blog about the larger cultural consequences of this spiteful, truly heinous, and ultimately unnecessarily hateful act.”

I spent the next day gutted and totally confused about why I was so deeply affected by the news. I was taking it personally; I’m still taking it personally. I keep asking myself why it bothers me so much. I’m not a graffiti writer. I wasn’t around for the court dates or protest (I participated by paying attention to the internet). The whitewashing of 5ptz doesn’t signal the end of graffiti art. And finally, despite all of the hard work Jonathon Meres Cohen and Marie Cecile Flaguel did to Save 5 Pointz, we know once the city council and the federal judge ruled against the preservation of the building that it would be destroyed. So, why the shock? And why am I waiting for news of some kind of massive retaliation? (Some kids tried to write on the memorial wall and were arrested for using markers on the poster boards attached to the building. Meres himself said, “People, do not write messages on 5 pointz ..undercovers are posted up waiting to arrest people.”) I mean, Wolkoff hired security for the building but NYC has many more walls. I kind of expected writers to cover the city in graff…but that didn’t happen, not yet anyway. So that’s another question: what’s up with that? Maybe I am missing something because I’m on the other side of the world, but it seems we’re all in a state of shock.

As the news stories and blog posts proliferated this week, I actively neglected this blog. I was trying to avoid the kind of rambling I am no doubt subjecting you to right now. Also, while I am positive that there is something “smart” to write about in regards to “saving”…it doesn’t exist here, not yet (and more than likely it will appear in my book’s chapter on how the internet is shifting cultural practices). I’m glad people are taking an interest in thinking through what’s happened, and the best I can do here is share some of my thoughts on what’s been written thus far.

1) While it is great fun to call the Wolkoff family evil, and for some actually cursing them for choosing money over culture, I think the issue is how art is valued and preserved in almost direct correlation to things like class and ethnicity when it comes to “improving” cities. Wolkoff and his family are just the latest figureheads representing the total whitewashing of NYC. I think at the end of the day Wolkoff is the scapegoat, but what people are really angry about is neoliberal capitalism. And if Wolkoff really did cry that morning, I’m curious why…and how he thinks about the value of art versus the value of condos. 

2) Gentrification is not inevitable. The relationship between art/culture, place, and the contemporary city was the topic of this year’s Creative Time Summit (definitely worth checking out). I for one refuse to throw up my hands and accept as “inevitable” that the people will continue to be disenfranchised, given no choice in how their cities are built.

3) 5 pointz was not deemed a “graffiti mecca” because writers thought they would gain subcultural fame, or street cred, by painting there. Writers from all over the world came to paint because it was a legal space in a city run by people who hate graffiti, and have been trying to eliminate it since its inception. The notion that “legal aerosol art” isn’t “real graffiti” misses the point of a genre that is now 40 years old; it also perpetuates a false binary, which proposes that if we have legal spaces “legit” writers will stop bombing. False. People have been writing on surfaces since we figured out dried clay leaves a mark; there is no danger that this will stop anytime soon. Thinking like this just helps the ant-graffiti heads, as we divide and conquer ourselves. We have to allow art forms to grow, change, and adapt, that’s what art does! Graffiti art takes so many different forms and lives on in so many different ways, all one has to do is look to the diaspora beyond NYC. Actually, all we have to do is look to the writers making a living selling their style to Louis Vuitton, Ugg, Calvin Klein, and Urban Outfitters (and so, so many more). And shouldn’t they be able to? Also, let’s take a moment and think about the mass exodus to Basel in December….lots of people scoffing at 5 pointz have no problem going down to Miami to paint with permission at an international arts festival in Wynwood. #realtalk #justsayin  For the record I LOVE Basel, I love writers getting paid for their work, and I firmly believe in graffiti’s diversity of forms. It’s all valid. It’s all expression. It all serves a different purpose.

4) Re: graffiti is ephemeral: When you get up somewhere without permission, yes you expect to get buffed by the property owner or by another writer—but that’s not what happened here. Wolkoff spent 20k in one night and hired non-union workers to cover over 1500 works with a thin coat of white paint that didn’t even match the color of the building (pet peeve). This is a different act entirely: these weren’t the marks of peeps who randomly caught tags, they were carefully curated works in a space dedicated to their preservation that were systemically and rather crudely obscured. It’s not something to brush off just because illegal graf plays with the boundaries of presence. Context is everything.

I emailed my people in the graf world and asked “how it makes writers/people in graf culture feel that 5 Pointz went out like this.” A few responses have trickled in:

Meme, Few & Far, CBS; USA
I cant recall the year but I was roughly 20 yrs. old, and such a toy, when I went to upstate NY to work with friends that got a good job gutting out houses. I had been there for 3 months and had to head back to California in a week. So I got on a bus to New York City by myself. Since I started writing graffiti seeing NYC was a goal of mine. NYC is legendary to the rich history of graffiti; it was my destiny to see where the roots of an art form that had taken over my life had begun. With my skateboard and cheap crappy paint I got off the bus in Times Square. I had never seen so many people in one place ever in my life. Growing up in a small town off a dirt road, I was a bit closed off from cities or graffiti culture. I had heard of this place that sounded like heaven from friends: a huge building with walls people could paint on legally. I had no idea that there was a such thing as legal graffiti. I had friends that had painted 5 points and gave me the address. I never had seen a subway before…the numbers and colors were extremely confusing, with people pushing and rushing to catch the train. I get on the train and these guys get on with a boom box and start clapping, rapping and doing tricks for money. It was like I was in Style wars or some shit. This blew my mind! So, I got off the train in Queens and skated down many streets. Then it starts to rain. I was starting to get nervous because the neighborhood didn’t look that good. I was alone and my phone had died. I called Meres from a pay phone and told him I was there but couldn’t find 5 points. He was very nice and told me to how to get there. I walked around the building, soaked, and finally saw the colors and the letters—my blood was rushing cause I was so excited. I was looking at a Toofly character; I had seen photos of her work in magazines but actually being able to touch it and study it was a different feeling. I looked around and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know spray paint could even produce such clean clear images and how colorful everything was. I find Meres and we chatted a bit and he asked me if I wanted to paint. I was like damn, really?? I told him I wasn’t that good and never painted a legal wall—he laugh and showed me where I could paint. Meres looked at my paint and was like “wow whats that?” pointing at my paint (it was some cheap no name shit I found in a hardware store upstate). I had $50 bucks, a joint and a bus ticket with nowhere to stay. I came to 5 points alone in search of something, but I didn’t know what. It was the sense of community, it was the idea that we can help each other out without knowing one another. Meres gave me a couch to crash on with his nice friends who also gave me food to eat. My solo adventure to 5 points will never be forgotten.”

Shape, Crazis Crew, Chile (pretty sure Shape used Google translate, but her message is still clear)
I come to find this, I think it is very sad news … I also feel that it is disrespectful to the years of history that has that icon in graffiti. I think also that the massification of capitalism is destroying many things one of those was 5pointz and I think the saga continues for me personally and without physically meet 5pointz is shocking to hear the news because that place is part of the origin, that place within school stages and learning generated an absolute place, unique in the world like no other… diversity, color, techniques and there were many who were fortunate enough to be there … any graffiti writer 5pointz want to know if there was an important part of the history of graffiti ! ! this action could serve to cause excessive more … or you could turn the page and continue seeking and creating elsewhere 5pointz what was at the time but never be equaled , by the context and all that remained in those walls under the white paint … 5pointz goodbye. Kisses

Susan Farrell, Art Crimes
We were incredibly lucky to have 5Pointz for so long. It’s been threatened almost the whole time it’s been in use as a public art venue. I’m grateful to the owners and the caretakers, especially Meres, for all their efforts. Someone suggested it was buffed to prevent an 11th-hour landmark complication, which seems plausible, but I don’t know anything about that. If they are going to tear it down, it makes some sense symbolically to kill it first, I suppose. For me, it’s a little easier to watch it go that way, as if were in a shroud. I’ll always remember the view from the roof and the train, the many happy afternoons and wonderful artwork. We’ve got the art well documented as a community, and it’s well represented online, so I’m content that we have not lost the history even though we’ve lost the community space. Let’s make more.

The ephemeral nature of graffiti art doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be invested in preserving it if we can; it actually means the opposite: archiving is that much more crucial. The obsessive collecting and saving of pictures and tags in black books (which has all gone digital now) tells us a lot about how graffiti culture deals with the inescapability of the form’s ephemerality through excessive documentation, and always has.

I made my first Storify post to “save” the reactions from that morning and the few days that followed (19th-22nd). It is fascinating to trace the news as it spread over the digitally connected globe via social networking. I searched Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for #Save5Pointz and #5Pointz and compiled 38 “pages” of images, links, comments, statuses, and tweets. And unless I am mistaken, it only pulls public posts—so there are undoubtedly hundreds of private posts, in addition to posts without hashtags, and commentary that lives on other digital platforms. As you’ll see, scanning through the various posts and images, we are all trying to come to terms with our strong affective responses. 5Pointz wasn’t just about history, it was about connections; the whitewashing of 5Pointz, in turn, produced a collective desire to save what we could; memories are being exchanged between strangers, rivals, old school heads, and tourists. We may not be able to save the building, but we are already “saving” 5Pointz.

[View the story “Reactions to the Whitewashing of 5 Pointz” on Storify]

 

Ruby Bridges Walks, a Public Art Series by Miss163 in the Bronx.

Just thought you outta know about Miss163’s latest project, funded by the DOT’s Urban Arts Program. You can peep it on Hunts Point ave, passing the Bruckner Expressway. 

I’ve been working with the image of Ruby Bridges because I feel that communities of color  need to analyze and take note of how she was used as a community organizing tool. She was a young black girl, who knew nothing about this grand plot to desegregate the South; she was a tool for this amazing life and nation changing event. She could not be a “he” because a black man is not “easy” on the eye. By that I mean, a girl had to be the one to desegregate the South because it had to be as smooth of a transition as possible and women (as objects of desire) are the perfect choice. If communities of color learn about the civil rights movement from a feminist perspective, I think that we would have stronger women of color but most importantly stronger communities. It is important to understand dynamics and learn from them. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we don’t learn our history in that matter, I believe the way we are taught empowerment, organizing, and the beauty (or lack there of) is very intentional.  

I wanted to place Ruby in Hunts Point because I want her in a place where they the community could celebrate their ability to keep walking, surviving, and thriving…

even when the odds are not on their favor.

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“Wild Thing” Artwork by Sharon Lee de la Cruz aka MISS163 Opens Tonight!

If you’re in NYC tonight, swing through the opening at bOb!!

bOb Bar is pleased to present Wild Thing, an exhibition of work by graffiti artist MS163. Please join us for an opening reception on Wednesday, July 3rd to meet the artist and celebrate her work.

In MS163’s series Wild Thing, the fictional yet familiar character “Max” from Where the Wild Things Are (1963) performs the role of the iconic Ruby Bridges—a crucial player in the civil rights movement and desegregation in 1960s New Orleans. On the one hand, MS163 celebrates the centrality of women of color in national sociopolitical movements; on the other, she begs the spectator to consider how women of color are used by these same movements. Wild Thing asks: how was Ruby, at 6 years old, deployed as a symbol of femininity, fragility, and respectability for the betterment of the African American community?

Sharon Lee De La Cruz is a prolific artist and activist in New York City. She earned a BFA from The Cooper Union, is a Fulbright scholar, and is now an MA candidate in NYU’s ITP program. She has shown in numerous venues throughout the New York metropolitan area, notably during Armory Week 2012 at the Bronx River Arts Center. She has been awarded residencies at Wonder Women and 365 Days of Print. Additionally, De La Cruz has designed a limited edition perfume bottle for Calvin Klein’s CK One Shock Street Edition For Her.

http://www.unoseistres.com  | #miss163atbOb  | RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/528173020553056/

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Interview with Chock GOT

I have some EXCITING NEWS!!

The Girls on Top (the UK’s first all-female graffiti crew) are coming to NYC for group exhibition at bob bar this MAY (see bob bar page)!!! So, to hype you all up for the show, I thought I’d share an interview I did with Chock—one of the crew’s founders—in April. So, enjoy your reading and get to know the girls (or, ya know, one of them!) before they get here!! Hope to see you for the opening reception on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013 at 7PM!!

Jess: How’d you choose “Chock” for a tagname? And what crews do you rep?

Chock: I chose it as I wanted a feminine name, but I really liked chocolate! I always used to paint the O as a heart. GOT THC BRS and United Artists thanks to Duster.

Jess: Care to share your 9-5?

Chock: I’m a full time artist. I teach workshops and paint commission mainly. I am also into public sculpture and hope to get that underway with regards to commissions this year. My workshops are in schools and other community centres.  My company is called Paint My Panda.

Jess: Writing for how long and how did you get started?

Chock: 15 years. I was a skater as a kid and always saw graff a lot didn’t think to do it until I went interailing with my boyfriend of the time and the whole continent was smashed! Thought I have to do some of that and got on with it at the age of 17 . ~I was a rubbish skater anyway.

Jess: When did you get down with GOT and how did it happen?

Chock: I started the crew with another girl (NED) in around 2000 cos we were both bored of being the only girls, it was just for fun and she stopped writing, I kept it on because it is boring being the only girl and most of the male writers I have met are not gentlemen!

Jess: What particular aesthetic do you bring to the table and how does that differ from the rest of the crew (if it does)?

Chock: My style is usually very bold and colourful. I lack on the finer details like Cry can bring with her portraits cos my eyesight is shit! I used to have to get people to tell me if anyone was coming in yards, I swear I see fuck all without my glasses! I like to paint cartoons and silly animals too and take pride in my letters. Sabe paints tattoo styles, luna is illustration, cry is photorealistic portraits and 80s style letters, pixie paints cartoony stuff, punish paints calligraphy styles and neo nita paints crazy neon monsters J

Jess: Do you think there is a relationship between hip hop and graffiti?

Chock: There is deffo a relationship. I love hip-hop music I also love loads of other music. We try to post dope females in art music and dance on our blog along with our own work.

Jess: What is hip hop?

Chock: A way of life, a subculture, a style of music, dance and art

Jess: What new trends or types of graffiti are you seeing?

Chock: Photorealism has been around for ages now over here, I see the fine art styles coming through more deffo in my work also as I did study it graduating in fine art sculpture in 2001.

Jess: What do you think about graffiti culture being online, does it change anything?

Chock: It helps people all over the world communicate, it’s a good thing but don’t put your train stuff up cos its hot! You can get famous quickly from all that but also get busted. Over here so many people go to prison for it and that type of stuff is used as evidence against them- don’t boast on the net! I spend a lot of time on here as I work as an artist as use it as a promotion tool, Facebook and other sites have helped me get work and be known for the projects I run over here.

Jess: Tell me what you know about women in graffiti history.

Chock: err…Barbara and eva 62, lady pink, mickey…Martha coopers pics… we are under represented in the main but maybe because we are unique. Not many girls can do what we do due to family pressures or no desire to get so dirty and poor!

Jess: Do you think graffiti reflects, represents or retools your identity in any way?

Chock: It rebuilt my identity, it allowed me to change things in my life, relationships, jobs, situations I didn’t like and create what I wanted to do and be and allowed me to surround myself with people who inspire me not drag me down.

Jess: Do you think of yourself (and your work with GOT) as feminist? What is feminism?

Chock: For me feminism is just belief in ones self. Not allowing shit you don’t like to happen to you and being proud of who you are as an individual.

Jess: What does the word “community” mean to you?

Chock: The people around me. I do lots of community work and charity painting projects. Everyone’s actions affect each other and it is important to engage with people around you to create a better future for everyone not just yourself. There are many people worse off than you.

Jess: Can you tell me the history of GOT (how has GOT changed over the years?, who are the members?, etc.).

Chock: GOT was started in 2000 by myself and NED in Manchester, we drifted apart as she stopped painting and I carried on in other crews in London. I got on the graff girls site [RIP GraffGirlz.com] and started meeting girl writers (akme, numi) to paint with again which was cool cos I really had been the only girl painting for time, there is no one in my area at all who does it! I met up with a mates girlfriend called mira we did some pieces and some bombing together and I put on a jam at stockwell, London in 2007 and put akit, luna, Claudia de sabe and lyns in the crew too; did more jams in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and have now got a nice 7 person line up of Chock, Luna, Sabe, Pixie, Punish, Cry and Neo Nita. The jams are a cool chance for us to get together and jam basically, its not a sexist thing cos we want some boys come down too but its mainly for us girls cos we need support we don’t get from lads. Not all of us have great boyfriends!

Jess: GOT is a “Female graffiti crew started in 2000 to help unite the females in graff world” according to Facebook…can you elaborate on what prompted this? What it means to you? Why it is important?

Chock: As I said its just about friendship really and a love of graff, life is dull on your own

Jess: Do you work collaboratively with other crews/collectives, magazines, or websites?

Chock: Not so much yet the crew is looking to do more of that this year and onwards really we have done a few bits with COP and put the jams on so we can all meet up with other girl writers but the scene is not massively strong over here still its very much in the minority, there are many female artists and illustrators but they don’t love the can so much.

 

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HomeGirls artworks by Abby online store is up!

I hope you’ll take the time to visit http://www.abbygraff.com and then buy a canvas or print for your collection, or for your favorite hip hop fanatic. Truly is money well spent.

HOMEGIRLS

artwork by Abby

A Queens, New York native, Abby is a visual artist with roots in the early ‘80s graffiti art scene at the geneses of New York’s Hip Hop movement. She attended the seminal High School of Art and Design in Manhattan from 1981 to 1984, where she was mentored by some of the most prolific and celebrated visual artists in urban and fine art such as Web One, Doze Green and Mare 139.

Abby was accepted to Parsons School of Design (New York)and attended from 1985-1987. Although she thrived academically, the financial strain was simply too much for her and her family, so she silently applied to Temple University’s Tyler School of Art (Elkins Park, PA and Philadelphia respectively). She graduated in 1991 with a BFA in graphic design with an emphasis on packaging.

In 1991, Abby returned to New York, started working for Arista Records and happily returned to painting legal walls with her crew. In 1992, as the design industry was quickly transitioning to computer-based design, she relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area where opportunities in Silicon Valley were abundant. There, she quickly became submerged in digital art, working for start-up ad agencies. Eventually, Abby earned coveted positions designing packaging and promotional work, most notably for Sega, Safeway Corporate Advertising, Concord Records and World Market.

Marriage and motherhood fostered a shift in Abby to work exclusively freelance, allowing her to remain present for her family and support her fine art. After 16 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, Abby relocated back to the East Coast where she could be closer to her roots.

Since 2008, Abby has been exhibited in ‘Heiroglyphics 3’ at the San Francisco African American Art and Culture Complex, ‘Queenz Arrive’ at McCaig-Welles NYC, and ‘TC5 Revolutions’ at Crewest LA.

In 2012, Abby lectured at Davidson College in North Carolina, on the topic of Stylemasters of Graffiti and her experiences as a female graffiti artist in her native culture and as a design professional.

April 2013 marks Abby’s solo exhibit ‘HomeGirls’ currently on display at bOb Bar NYC until May 19th, which depicts the places and mind-spaces the artist has called home. HomeGirls makes visual her journey as an African American woman, an original participant in a vibrant transnational arts movement, as she transitions from place to place (physically and emotionally) trying to find a balance between motherhood and career that won’t demand she sacrifice one for the other.

To Purchase Works from the show, please visit http://www.abbygraff.com !!